Space is an unforgiving environment. Anyone who has ever seen The Martian or read up on the health hazards of weightlessness knows the risks astronauts take when they sign up for an extended stay on the International Space Station: from bone density and muscle loss to exposure to space radiation, the time spent on the massive station (its solar array wingspan is around 240 feet long) -- exciting though it may be -- is not without risk. But what about germs?
When Immune Systems And Solar Systems Collide
A great and many studies have been performed on how the human body reacts to extended time spent in the near-weightlessness of space, including how gravity impacts and distorts cellular fluids. For example, earlier experimentation found that spaceflight boosts the virulence (the disease-causing potential) of the food-borne germ Salmonella; since space travel already weakens astronaut immunity, this places significantly more risk on the health of the astronauts.
"By studying the effect of spaceflight on the disease-causing potential of major pathogens like Salmonella, we may be able to provide insight into infectious disease mechanisms that cannot be attained using traditional experimental approaches on Earth, where gravity can mask key cellular responses," explained Cheryl Nickerson, who made the discovery with her colleagues.
Vaccines In Space
Vaccines operate by pre-activating T-cells; they are able to react faster to block development of the disease because these killer cells are already geared up to protect us from invaders. Our immune systems are bolstered as a result, and -- as Nickerson proved -- are still a necessity even on the ISS, where astronauts are exposed to fewer pathogens.
The most common (and one of the most important) is the influenza vaccine: it's estimated that as many as 710,000 flu-related hospitalizations have been prevented since 2010 due to the efficacy of inoculations, and since there are no hospitals on the ISS, their administering is vital to its residents' health. By studying how the human body, living in zero gravity, responds to immunizations, further developments can be made regarding long-term space travel; the better we can safeguard the immune systems of astronauts, the longer they'll be able to stay in space.
Advancements That Could Take Us To Mars
Compounding on this immunology finding is the work of Dr. John Campbell, a lecturer at the University of Bath, and his team: they've discovered that living in space does not alter an astronaut's levels of B-cell immunity, the white blood cells that create antibodies to fight off infections. B-cells are companions to T-cells, so their unaltered state offers extra protection from outside invaders.
"Our results are good news for current astronauts aboard the ISS … and for all future astronauts who will attempt long-duration space missions," said Dr. Campbell, hinting at the possibility of a trip to Mars; since the flight takes three years to complete (around three times longer than the U.S. current record set by astronaut Scott Kelly), this kind of knowledge could take us one step closer.
Vacationing is one of the greatest aspects of adulting. After working tirelessly for months at a time, spending a week or a long weekend at a tropical paradise can be just what someone needs to replenish and relax. However, for a variety of reasons, millennials aren't using their vacation days as much as other generations, leaving an estimated $1.3 trillion worth of wasted vacation on the table each year.
NASA's Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet's surface and subsurface.
This morning I woke up to an email from Mattel with news that I knew would be just around the corner - the reveal of American Girl's 2018 Girl of the Year. What I didn't expect was that 2018's GOTY, Luciana Vega, would be perhaps the most perfect doll ever... at least in our house. As our girls often look to and reach for the stars, Luciana becomes a new example for them - the latest in American Girl's long line of inspiring characters that encourage girls to think about who they want to be and how they want to make their mark in the world—no matter the challenges they may face. Vega is described as "a creative, confident 11-year-old girl and aspiring astronaut who dreams of being the first person to go to Mars. And, while she has the skills and smarts to achieve her goals, she also learns that being a good leader and team player right here on Earth is the best first step." This sounds very, very familiar...
Space-based play is a big deal here at Rock Father HQ, a fact that I've often mentioned both here and in my column over at The Toy Insider. Two Christmases ago, our youngest daughter had just one request for Santa Claus: "A Space Station." While he delivered on that wish, this year an even bigger orbiting craft arrived here at HQ, and it's something that our girls can actually climb inside of. The folks at Pacific Play Tents recently sent us their Space Station Tent and Tunnel Combo, and it's become a regular base for out-of-this-world adventure. When paired with the "Get Real Gear" Astronaut Suits and Jr. Astronaut Helmets from our friends at Aeromax Toys (based right here in Illinois!), they've got the perfect accessories for endless imaginative play! Take a look at the video below. Will SpaceX be sending kids into space?
While numerous parties continue to work on the next generation of reusable space vehicle, I miss the Shuttle program. Having grown-up in the era of regular launches and becoming so familiar with the closest thing we've ever had to a movie-style spaceship (one that looked like a plane and could blast off and return), I wish that my girls could see that on a regular basis right now... especially being so curious about space (last Xmas, little Finley asked for one thing - "a space station"). With Disney Junior's MILES FROM TOMORROWLAND, Sprout's THE FLOOGALS and PBS Kids' READY JET GO all inspiring some STEM-infused space adventures (in addition to regular visits to a galaxy far, far away through STAR WARS), it's time to take a look back - and a look at where we're headed, with the June 7th release of JOURNEY TO SPACE from Shout! Factory. For their first foray into a line of new, immersive, Giant Screen films in the visually stunning 4K Ultra HD™ format, JOURNEY TO SPACE will be released on Blu-ray, and in a 4K UHD + 3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray 2-disc combo, and both releases will include trailers, a photo gallery, and behind-the-scenes footage as bonus features. Take a look at a new clip featuring the Space Shuttle Orbiter, and all the details on the film below...